previous next

Prota'goras

*Prwtago/ras), was born at Abdera, according to the concurrent testimony of Plato and several other writers. (Protag. p. 309c., De Rep. x. p. 606c.; Heracleides Pont. apud Diog. Laört. 9.55; Cicero, de Nit. Deor. 1.23, &c.) By the comic poet Eupolis (apud Diog. Laert. 9.50), he is called a Teian (Τήϊος), probably with reference to tle Teian origin of that city (Hdt. 1.168, &c.), just as Hecatacus the Abderite is by Strabo. (See Ed. Geist in a programme of the Paedaigogium at Giessen, 1827; comp. Fr. Hermann in the Schulzeitung, 1830, ii. p. 509.) In the manifestly corrupted text of the Pseudo-Galenus (de Philos. Hist. 100.8), he is termed an Elean (compare J. Frei, Quaestiones Protagoreae, Bonnae, 1845, p. 5). By the one his father is called Artemon, by the others Maeandrius or Maeander (D. L. 9.50, ib. Interp.), whom Philostratus (p. 494), probably confounding him with te father of Democritus, describes as very rich; Diogenes Laertius (ib. 53) as miserably poor. The well-known story, however, that Protagoras was once a poor porter, and that the skill with which he had fastened together, and poised upon his shoulders, a large bundle of wood, attracted the attention of Democritus, who conceived a liking for him, took him under his care and instructed him (Epicurus in Diog. Laert. 10.8, 9.53; Aul. Gellius, N. A. 5.3; comp. Ath. 8.13, p. 354c.),--appears to have arisen out of the statement of Aristotle, that Protagoras invented a sort of porter's knot (τύλη) for the more convenient carrying of burdens (D. L. 9.53; comp. Frei, l.c. p. 6, &c.). Moreover, whether Protagoras was, as later ancient authorities assumed (D. L. 9.50; Clem. Alex. Strom. i. p. 301d., &c.), a disciple of Democritus, with whom in point of doctrine he had absolutely nothing in common, is very doubtful, and Frei (l.c. p. 24, &c.) has undertaken to show that Protagoras was some twenty years older than Democritus. If, in fact, Anaxagoras, as is confirmed in various ways, was born about B. C. 500, and was forty years older than Democritus, according to the latter's own statement (D. L. 9.41; comp. 34), Protagoras must have been older than Democritus, as it is certain that Protagoras was older than Socrates, who was born B. C. 468 (Plat. Protag. p. 317c., 314, b., 361, e.; comp. D. L. 9.42, 56), and died before him at the age of nearly seventy (Plat. Meno, p. 91e.; comp. Theaet. p. 171d., 164, e., Euthlyd. p. 286c.; the assumption of others, that he reached the age of ninety years, D. L. 9.55, Schol. in Plat. de Rep. x. p. 600, is of no weight), after he had practised the sophistic art for forty years, and had by flight withdrawn himself from the accusation of Pythodorus, one of the Four Hundred, who governed Athens in B. C. 411 (D. L. 9.54 ; comp. Philostratus, l.c. Aristotle mentioned Euathlus, the disciple of Protagoras, as his accuser, Diog. Laert. l.c.). Apollodorus, therefore, might very well assign the 84th Olympiad (B. C. 444) as the period when he flourished (D. L. 9.54, 56). A more accurate determination of the date of his death, and thence of his birth, cannot be extracted from a fragment of the Silli of Timon (in Sext. Emp. ad v. Math. 9.57), and a passage of Plato (Theaet. p. 171d.), as the placing together of Protagoras and Socrates in them does not presuppose that their deaths were contemporaneous. Nor are we justified in concluding from the boastful expression of the sophist (Plat. Prot. p. 317c.), that he was twenty years older than Socrates. On the other hand, if Euripides alluded to his death in the Ixion (according to Philochorus in D. L. 9.55), he must have died before B. C. 406 or 407, i. e. before the death of Euripides. With preponderating probability, therefore, Frei places the death of Protagoras in B. C. 411, assuming that Pythodorus accused him during the government of the Four Hundred (Quaest. Protey. p. 64), and accordingly assigns about B. C. 480 as the date of his birth.

That Protagoras had already acquired fame during his residence in Abdera cannot be inferred from the doubtful statement, that he was termed by the Abderites λόγος, and Democritus φιλοσοφία or σοφία. (Ael. VH 4.20; comp. Suid. s. vv. Πρωταγ. Δημόκρ., &c. Phavorinus, in D. L. 9.50, gives to Protagoras the designation of τοφία). He was the first who called himself a sophist, and taught for pay (Plat. Protag. p. 349a.; D. L. 9.52). He must have come to Athens before B. C. 445, since, according to the statement of Heracleides Ponticus (D. L. 9.50), he gave laws to the Thurians, or, what is more probable, adapted for the use of the new coloists, who left Athens for the first time in that year, the laws which had been drawn up at an earlier period by Charondas, for the use of the Chalcidic colonies (for according to Diod. 12.1. 3, and others, these laws were in force at Thurii likewise). Whether he himself removed to Thurii, we do not learn, but at the time of the plague we find him again in Athens, as he could scarcely have mentioned the strength of mind displayed by Pericles at the death of his sons, in the way he does (in a fragment still extant, Plut. de Consol, ad Apoll. 100.33, p. 118d.), had he not been an eye-witness. He had also, as it appears, returned to Athens after a long absence (Plat. Prot. p. 301c.), at a time when the sons of Pericles were still alive (ibid. p. 314e., 329, a.) A somewhat intimate relation between Protagoras and Pericles is intimated also elsewhere. (Plut. Per. 100.36. p. 172a.) His activity, however, was by no means restricted to Athens. He had spent some time in Sicily, and acquired fame there (Plat. Hipp. Maj. p. 282d.), and brought with him to Athens many admirers out of other Greek cities through which he had passed (Plat. Prot. p. 315a.). The impeachment of Protagoras had been founded on his book on the gods, which began with the statement: "Respecting the gods, I am unable to know whether they exist or do not exist." (D. L. 9.51, &c.) The impeachment was followed by his banishment (D. L. 9.52; Cic. de Nat. Deor. 1.23; Euseb. Praep. Evang. 14.19, &c.), or, as others affirm, only by the burning of his book. (Philost. Vit. Soph. l.c.; Joseph. c. Apion. 2.37; Sext. Emp. ad v. Math. 9.56; Cic. Diog. Laert. II. cc.


Works

From the list of the writings of Protagoras which Diogenes Laertius (9.55) doubtless borrowed from one of his Alexandrine authorities (he describes them as still extant, ἐστὶ τὰ σωζόμενα αὐτοῦ βιβλία ταῦτα; comp. Welcker's account of Prodikos, in his Kleine Schriften, ii. p. 447, 465), and which he gives probably with his accustomed negligence, one may see that they comprised very different subjects :--ethics (περὶ ἀπετῶν and περὶ τῶν οὐκ ὀρθῶς τοῖς ἀνθρωποις πρασσομένων, περὶ φιλοτιμίας), politics (περὶ πολιτείας, περὶ τῆς ἐν ἀπχῇ καταστάσεως; comp. Frei, p. 182, &c.), rhetorni (ἀντιλογιῶν δύο, τέχνη ἐριστικῶν), and other subjects of different kinds (προστακτικὸς, περὶ μαθημάτων, περὶ πάλης, περὶ τῶν ἐν Αἵδον).


Truth
and
On the Gods

The works which, in all probability, were the most important of those which Protagoras composed, Truth (Ἀλήθεια), and On the Gods (Περὶ Θεῶν), are omitted in that list, although in another passage (9.51) Diogenes Laertius refers to them. The first contained the theory refuted by Plato in the Theaetetus (Theaet. p. 161,c., 162, a., 166, c., 170, e.), and was probably identical with the work on the Existent (Περὶ τοῦ ὄντος), attributed to Protagoras by Porphyrius (in Euseb. Praep. Evang. 10.3, p. 468, Viger). This work was directed against the Eieatics (Πρὸς τοὺς ἒν τὸ ὂν λέγοντας), and was still extant in the time of Porphyrius, who describes the argumentation of the book as similar to that of Plato, though without adding any more exact statements. With the doctrine that was peculiar to Protagoras we obtain the most complete acquaintances from the Theaetetus of Plato, which was designed to refute it, and the fidelity of the quotations in which is confirmed by the much more scanty notices of Sextus Empirieus and others. The sophist started from the fundamental presupposition of Heracleitus, that every thing is motion. and nothing besides or beyond it, and that out of it every thing comes into existence; that nothing at any time exists, but that everything is perpetually becoming (Plat. Theaet. pp. 156, 152: Sextus Empiricus inaccurately attributes to him matter in a perpetual state of flux, ὕλη ῥευστή, Pyrrhon. Hyp. 1.217, 218). He then distinguished two principal kinds of the infinitely manifold motions, an active and a passive; but premised that the motion which in one concurrence manifested itself actively, will in another appear as passive, so that the difference is as it were a fluctuating, not a permanent one (Theaet. pp. 156, 157). From the concurrence of two such motions arise sensation or perception, and that which is felt or perceived, according to the different velocity of the motion; and that in such a way that where there is homogeneity in what thus meets, as between seeing and colour, hearing and sound (ib. p. 156), the definiteness of the colour and the seeing, of the perception and that which is perceived, is produced by the concurrence of corresponding motions (p. 156d., comp. 159, c.). Consequently, we can never speak of Being and Becoming in themselves, but only for something (τινί), or of something (τινός), or to something (πρός τι, p. 160b., 156, c., 152, d.; Arist. Metaph. 9.3; Sext. Emp. Hyp. 1.216, 218). Consequently there is or exists for each only that of which he has a sensation, and only that which he perceives is true for him (Theaet. p. 152a., comp. Cratyl. p. 386; Aristocles, in Euseb. Praep. Evang. 14.20; Cic. Ac. 2.46; Sext. Emp. I. e. and ad v. Math. 7.63, 369, 388, &c.); so that as sensation, like its objects, is engaged in a perpetual change of motion (Theaet. p. 152b.; Sext. Emp. Hyp. i. p. 217f.), opposite assertions might exist, according to the difference of the perception respecting each several object (Arist. Metaph. 4.5 ; D. L. 9.5; Clem. Alex. Strom. v. p. 674a.; Senec. Epist. 88). The conclusions hitherto discussed, which he drew from the Heracleitean doctrine of eternal Becoming, Protagoras summed up in the well-known proposition: The man is the measure of all things; of the existent that they exist; of the non-existent, that they do not exist (Theaet. p. 152a., 160, d., Cratyl. p. 385e. ; Arist. Mctaph. 10.1, 11.6; Sext. Emp. ad r. Math. 7.60, Pyrrhon. Hyp. i. p. 216; Aristocles, in Euseb. Praep. Evang. 14.20; D. L. 9.51 ), and understood by the man, the perceiving or sensation-receiving subject. He was compelled, therefore, likewise to admit, that confutation was impossible, since every affirmation, if resting upon sensation or perception, is equally justifiable (Plat. Euthyd. p. 185d. &c.; Isocr. Helenae Enc. p. 231, Bekk.; D. L. 9.53); but, notwithstanding the equal truth and justifiableness of opposite affirmations, he endeavoured to establish a distinction of better and worse, referring them to the better or worse condition of the percipient subject, and promised to give directions for improving this condition, i. e. for attaining to higher activity (Theaet. p. 167; comp. Sext. Emp. Hyp. i. p. 218). Already, before Plato and Aristotle (Aristot. Met. 4.4, comp. the previously quoted passages), Democritus had applied himself to the confutation of this sensualism of Protagoras, which annihilated existence, knowledge, and all understanding (Plut. ad v. Colot. p. 1109a.; Sext. Emp. ad v. Math. 7.389).

When Protagoras, in his book on the Gods. maintained that we are not able to know whether and how they exist (Timon, in Sext. Emp. adv. Math. 9.56, comp. 58; Cic. de Nat. Deor. 1.1, 12, 23, 42; D. L. 9.51, &c. To regard the expression, ὁποῖοί τινές εἰσι, quales sint, as Frei does, l.c. p. 98, as a foreign addition, seems to me to involve difficulties), he probably could only have in mind the mutually opposed statements on the point, and must himself have been disposed to a denial as he could scarcely have been conscious of a corresponding sensation or perception.

It is not every pleasure, but only pleasure in the beautiful, to which Protagoras, in the dialogue which bears his name (p. 351b.), allows moral worth; and he refers virtue to a certain sense of shame (αἰδως) implanted in man by nature, and a certain conscious feeling of justice (δίκη), which are to serve the purpose of securing the bonds of connection in private and political life (ibid. p. 322c. &c.); and, accordingly, explains how they are developed by means of education, instruction, and laws (p. 325c. &c., comp. 340, c.). He is not able, however, to define more exactly the difference between the beautiful and the pleasant, and at last again contents himself with affirming that pleasure or enjoyment is the proper aim of the good (p. 354, &c.). In just as confused a manner does he express himself with respect to the virtues, of which he admits five (holiness, ὁσιότης,--and four others), and with regard to which he maintains that they are distinguished from each other in the same way as the parts of the countenance (ib. p. 349b., 329, c., &c.).


Assessment

As in these ethical opinions of Protagoras we see a want of scientific perception, so do we perceive in his conception of the Heracleitean doctrine of the eternal flow of all things, and the way in which he carries it out, a sophistical endeavour to establish, freed from the fetters of science, his subjective notions, setting aside the Heracleitean assumption of a higher cognition, and a community of rational activity (ξυνὸς λόγος), by means of rhetorical art. That he was master of this in a high degree, the testimonies of the ancients leave indubitable. His endeavours, moreover. were mainly directed to the communication of this art by means of instruction (Plat. Prot. p. 312c.), to render men capable of acting and speaking with readiness in domestic and political affairs (ib. p. 318e.). He would teach how to make the weaker cause the stronger (τὸν ἥττω λόγον κρείττω ποιεῖν, Arist. Rhet. 2.24; A. Gellius, N. A. 5.3; Eudoxus, in Steph. Byz. s. v. Ἄβδηρα; comp. Aristoph. Cl. 113, &100.245, &100.873, 874, 879, &c.). By way of practice in the art he was accustomed to make his pupils discuss Theses (communes loci) on opposite sides (antinomically) (D. L. 9.52, &c.; comp. Suid. s. v.; Dionys. Halic. Isocr. Timon in Diog. Laert. 9.52; Sext. Emp. ad v. Math. 9.57; Cic. Briut. 12); an exercise which is also recommended by Cicero (Cic. Att. 9.4), and Quintilian (10.5.10). The method of doing so was probably unfolded in his Art of Dispute (τέχνη ἐπιστικῶν, see above). But he also directed his attention to language, endeavoured to explain difficult passages in the poets, though not always with the best success (Plat. Prot. p. 388c. &c.; comp. respecting his and the opposed Platonic exposition of the well-known lines of Simonides, Frei, p. 122. &c.); entered at some length into the threefold gender of names (ἄρρενα, θήλεα, and οκεύη, Arist. Rhet. 3.5, El. Soph. 100.14; comp. Aristoph. Nub. 645, &c.), and the tenses and moods of verbs (Diog. Laert. ix 52, 53; Quint. Inst. 3.4.10 ; Frei, l.c. p. 133, &c.). Although Protagoras left it to his pupils to fix the amount of his fees in proportion to the profit they considered themselves to have derived from his lessons (Plat. Prot. p. 328 b.; Arist. Eth. Nic. ix. ), he--the first who demanded payment for instruction and lectures--nevertheless obtained an amount of wealth which became proverbial. (Plat. Hipp. Maj. p. 282c., Meno, p. 91d., Theaet. p. 161a., 179, a. ; Quint. Inst. 3.1.10; D. L. 9.52, 50, &c.)

[Ch. A. B.]

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
411 BC (2)
500 BC (1)
480 BC (1)
468 BC (1)
445 BC (1)
444 BC (1)
406 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: